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Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Freire wins Tour de France Stage 9

Associated Press

DAX, France -- Oscar Freire of Spain won stage nine of the Tour de France by less than a wheel length Tuesday over Robbie McEwen of Australia.

Discovery needs to attack
A disappointing performance in the time trial Saturday has left the Discovery Channel team, formerly led by Lance Armstrong, with little choice but to attack when the Tour de France enters the Pyrenees.

"We lost more time than expected in the time trial so it is up to us to make up for it if we can," team manager Johan Bruyneel told reporters.

"And there is only one way to make up for lost time -- attack and ignite the race so that no team should be able to be in control.

"There will be attacks from the first stage in the Pyrenees. Even if the stage does not end at a summit, there will be a lot of possibilities," the Belgian added.

The peloton will ride from Cambo-Les-Bains to Pau with the ascents of the Col de Soudet and the Col de Marie-Blanque on Wednesday.

"We have to adopt an aggressive attitude. The wait-and-see attitude is not an option for us anymore," said Bruyneel.

Former Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli is Discovery's top rider in the standings at 11th, 2 minutes, 10 seconds behind leader Serhiy Honchar. George Hincapie is 17th, 2:30 adrift of the T-Mobile rider.

Bruyneel acknowledged the German team is in a strong position before the mountain stages.

"Andreas Kloeden is the best but there are many other riders. They are undoubtedly the strongest team," he said.

Kloeden, who finished second to Armstrong on the Tour two years ago, is fifth overall, 1:50 behind Honchar.

Teammate Michael Rogers said on Monday the team would probably work for the German in the mountains.

-- Reuters

The win was Freire's second at this Tour and came in the last flat stage before the race heads into the Pyrenees. The Rabobank sprint specialist also won stage five.

Freire, a three-time former world champion, surged past current world champion Tom Boonen in a grouped sprint finish at Dax, in southwest France. He held off the rapidly closing McEwen at the line.

Race leader Serhiy Honchar and second-place Floyd Landis of the United States did not contest the sprint, preferring to stay safely in the trailing pack. Honchar's lead over Landis was unchanged at exactly 1 minute.

Freire said his wife is due to give birth to their first child in the coming days, an event "it's not easy" to miss.

But "it's better to be here winning while not being at home than being here losing," he said. He said winning Tour sprint finishes is particularly tough because "nobody respects anybody else."

The terrain on Tuesday's 105-mile trek from Bordeaux was pancake flat. But it goes sharply uphill from here.

Two hard days of ascents Wednesday and Thursday among the Pyrenean peaks that straddle France and Spain should give a clearer idea of which riders are best placed to succeed Lance Armstrong, who retired from cycling after his seventh successive Tour win last year.

The 30-year-old Landis is among the favorites. He announced Monday that he has a damaged hip -- the legacy of a crash in 2003 -- that will require replacement. He is continuing the Tour, but the planned surgery has made his long-term career prospects uncertain.

Wednesday's first mountain stage from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau has three climbs.

The hardest, to the Soudet pass, ascends to 5,052 feet and is so tough that it is rated "hors categorie," or defying classification on the scale the Tour uses to measure the difficulty of ascents.

The cyclists will ride uphill for 9.1 miles at an average gradient of 7.3 percent -- far steeper in places -- to reach the Soudet pass. They will approach from the west, the first time the pass has been climbed in the Tour from that side.

Thursday brings the hardest Pyrenean stage, a 128-mile trek up five hard ascents -- the first of them "hors categorie" -- with an arduous if not exceptionally steep uphill finish to Pla-de-Beret in Spain.

Riders can burn 10,000 calories on hard mountain stages, about five times the amount an average person consumes in a normal day, said Denise Demir, doctor for Landis' Swiss team, Phonak.

Replacing those calories and the 20 pints of liquid they can lose through sweat requires them to drink and eat in such large quantities that it frequently gives riders stomach problems, Demir added.

Sunburn is also a problem, and "most of the riders get back and neck problems because of their position on the bike in climbs," she said.